In her 87 years, late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg left a remarkable impact on the lives of Americans. As I have been reflecting on the influence she has had on me, my friends, and countless others, I cannot help but be reminded of her lifelong fight for justice and the role she has played in inspiring me to continue to pursue my goals. She has reminded me that women can break past the same barriers because of their gender, not in spite of it.
Ginsburg, a firecracker in her 80s, became a legal and cultural icon, helping co-found the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU, in addition to being a pioneer for gender equality throughout her legal career. She would later gain the nickname “the Notorious R.B.G.” , a play on words in reference to fellow Brooklyn native rapper Notorious B.I.G. for her outspoken personality and witty remarks.
One of only 9 women in a 500 person class at Harvard Law School, Ginsburg and her female peers were repeatedly questioned by the dean as to why they were taking up seats that could otherwise be filled by young men. Despite this, she proved to be one of the best students, tying for first in her class. Even still, when she was personally recommended by a Harvard Law professor for a clerkship under a residing Supreme Court Justice, the Justice responded that he wasn’t ready yet to hire a woman, and asked the professor that he recommend a man instead. But she didn’t let this deter her. She would go on to become Columbia Law School’s first female professor to receive tenure, and wrote the first law school casebook for gender discrimintaion. Decades before she joined the Supreme Court, Ginsburg worked as an attorney, where she challenged sex-based legislation and paternalistic notions, like female frailty. She stressed how these notions place women on a pedestal, while simultaneously denying them opportunities. I continue to see this stereotype in areas like ours where women have begun to make more progress in areas like law, science, and engineering fields. We are just as intellectual and capable as all the other men that have attempted to keep us out of those occupations. As Ginsburg said in a 1996 case overruling a law that Virginia Military Institute stay an all-male college, a “reliance on overbroad generalizations...estimates about the way most men or most women are, will not suffice to deny opportunity to women whose talent and capacity place them outside the average description,”. And that was just the beginning.
Once on the Supreme Court, becoming only the second woman in such a position, Ginsburg was a clear example of a woman who lived to defy stereotypes. Standing at 5’1”, she appeared small and frail to many, although she rode horses and parasailed well into her 70s. Until her death, she trained with a personal trainer in the Supreme Court’s gym and for many years could lift more than Justices Kagan and Breyer. Over the years, she would file
Ginsburg pictured, right, at Harvard Law School with her peers
dozens of briefs looking to persuade the Supreme Court that the 14th Amendment warrant protection that applies not only to racial and ethnic minorities, but to women as well. Until 2018, she had not missed a single day of oral arguments, even when she underwent chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer, after surgery for colon cancer, or the day after her husband died in 2010. She continued to show that she was a force to be reckoned with, and one need only look at her record in oral arguments, success in judicial duties, and advocacy roles to see why she is one of my real life superheroes.
Here is a list of just a few things that Ginsburg has done for women:
-the right to have a job without being discriminated based on gender
-the right for women to be pregnant/have kids and work
-Equal Credit Opportunity Act (1974):
-the right to have a bank account without a male co-signer
-the right to sign a mortgage without a man
-Ledbetter vs. Goodyear (2007):the right to a pension equal to male counterparts
She flourished in the face of adversity, and I can only hope to embody some of the strength she showed in her 87 years. However, it should not have come down to just one woman against all of these different institutions in place. RBG was undoubtedly an icon, but she couldn’t save us, nor should she have had that pressure placed on her. We, the ones that she has left a living legacy on, are the ones that have to do that work. Arguably, that is the ultimate way that one can respect her legacy. Now more than ever is the time to push as tirelessly as she did for the liberties we have worked so hard to earn.